who is in control?
Conceptual series exploring the historical evolution of how users engage advertising within the public domain.
The following is an excerpt from the conclusion of my thesis, Digital is Physical: The Future of User Agency and Design Within the Public Domain. Explore more in the "Thesis and Writings" section.
The issue is not private companies participating in the public domain. Disneyland is Disneyland. A shopping mall is a shopping mall. A billboard is a billboard. An Apple store is not a Town Square. A future public domain built on false rhetoric and subversive technology must be critically questioned from the standpoint of architecture urbanism and most importantly by all users of the city. Ultimately, it is crucial that users maintain the agency of choice and freedom within the public domain.
When users experience of the city is controlled, filtered, influenced, or manipulated the chance encounters and serendipity of the public domain are gone. Users are not only isolated, but unable to no longer be exposed to different opinions and diversity. In some ways, that deepens social divides, isolation, and polarization of communities.
Not everything these companies do is bad. There are many examples of these platforms and devices connecting and enabling communities world-wide to have a voice on a global scale. Political engagement that happens in digital space is now playing out in physical space. The same happens with casual social interaction with added connectivity and accessibility for those with the software. For all the good, these technologies clearly come with consequences that must be critically considered before they are given free reign within the public domain.
I firmly stand with the idea that we must as citizens and designers fight to retain agency and control within these spaces within the city. This relationship will continue to change, but as technology redefines the ‘rules of engagement’ within the public domain the fundamental aspects of the public domain cannot be forgotten. A public domain that trades serendipity, freedom, and user agency for control, ubiquity, and isolation that is defined by technology companies must not be the future of the city. There will be ways the digital and physical realms can coexist, but designers, users, and policymakers must critically ask what the function of the public domain is in the future vision of cities.
Martijn De. Waal, The City as Interface: How Digital Media Are Changing the City (Rotterdam: NAI Uitgevers/Publishers Stichting, 2014)